On Jan. 4, 2010, The New York Times ran an opinion piece by TSA agent Jason Edward Harrington titled, “To Stop a Terrorist: No Lack of Ideas.” This caused Harrington’s supervisor, the federal security director at Chicago O’Hare, to have a meeting with him; a meeting that Harrington explained was usually followed by termination.
The supervisor told him, “The problem we have here is that you identified yourself as a TSA employee.”
Harrington explained his reaction and the ensuing conversation:
“[I knew] self-identifying as a government employee in a public forum may be grounds for termination.
I was shocked. I had been sure the letter would fall under the aegis of public concern, but it looked as though my boss wanted to terminate me. I scrambled for something to say.
‘I thought the First Amendment applied here.’
She leaned back in her chair, hands up, palms outfaced. Now she was on the defensive.
‘I’m not trying to tread upon your First Amendment rights,’ she said. ‘All I’m saying is: Couldn’t you have run those First Amendment rights past the legal department first?’”
Harrington wasn’t fired, and continued working for the TSA for 3 more years. During that time, Harrington would start a blog titled “Taking Sense Away,” which was intended to be a blog by TSA agents, for TSA agents. The first post on the blog was titled, “All the Airport’s a Security Stage.” Other posts revealed that the decision on which traveler receives the enhanced security screening is not always known to the TSA officer administering it, which is why they say “It’s just a random search.” Harrington would also write about TSA agents using the naked body scanners to look at attractive women.
Ultimately, Harrington would resign in May of 2013. He was told that before he could quit his job, he would need to sign papers and go through an exit interview. “I had committed no crime in daring to speak out,” he wrote, “I had only provided information the public had a right to know. As I saw it, $40 million in taxpayer dollars had been wasted on ineffective anti-terrorism security measures at the expense of the public’s health, privacy and dignity. If asked during my exit interview whether I knew anything about a website called ‘Taking Sense Away,’ I decided I would tell the truth.”
Harrington was not questioned about his knowledge of – or connection to – the blog, which some people suggest was responsible for the TSA replacing the Rapiscan body scanner machines with a new type of scanner that produced a generic outline of the body instead of graphic nudes; after all, it was only 3 weeks after his blog went viral that the TSA made the announcement.
However, not much has changed with airport security, and few people are even asking the question: “Why are individual airlines not in charge of their own security?”